Court Explains Choice of Law in Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Cases

Most states, like Massachusetts, have a workers’ compensation act (the Act) that protects workers in the event of employment-related injuries by granting them the right to recover benefits. While in most cases, it is clear what state’s workers’ compensation laws apply, in others, it is less evident. This was demonstrated in a recent Massachusetts case in which the court had to determine whether Massachusetts or Rhode Island law applied. If you sustained injuries on the job, it is smart to consult with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer to determine what benefits you may be owed.

Case Setting

It is reported that the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant construction contractor and defendant superintendent, seeking damages for injuries allegedly resulting from their negligent conduct. The plaintiff was employed by a temporary employment agency, which had a contract with the defendant construction contractor to provide laborers for a construction project at a Naval Station in Rhode Island. The project was contracted with the United States Department of Navy, and the defendant construction contractor, a Pennsylvania corporation, called upon the temp agency to supply temporary laborers.

Allegedly, despite the project being in Rhode Island, the defendant construction contractor, unaware of the temp agency’s Massachusetts connection, expected federal and Rhode Island laws to apply. The plaintiff, a Massachusetts resident, sustained injuries on the site, leading to a dispute over whether Massachusetts or Rhode Island law applied to his tort claims. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that Rhode Island law applied and precluded his claim.

Choice of Law in Workers’ Compensation Claims

The court, considering the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, analyzed the choice-of-law issue to determine which state’s law governed the claims. Applying Massachusetts choice-of-law principles, the court adopted a functional approach, weighing factors such as the place of injury, the conduct causing the injury, the parties’ relationships, and relevant policies.

Despite the injury occurring on federal property in Rhode Island, the court held that Rhode Island law had a more significant relationship to the case. The defendant construction contractor’s contacts with Labor Systems in Massachusetts were deemed insufficient to establish a connection with Massachusetts, as the crucial relationship at issue—the one between the defendants and the plaintiff—was centered in Rhode Island.

The court also addressed the application of Rhode Island’s Workers’ Compensation Act (RI WCA). It found that the RI WCA provided the exclusive remedy for injured workers against their employers, barring common-law actions unless the worker explicitly waived this right at the time of hiring. Since the plaintiff did not retain his common-law right of action against either the temp agency or the defendant construction contractor, the court held that the RI WCA applied, immunizing the defendant construction contractor from the tort claims. The court extended this immunity to the defendant superintendent, as an employee of the defendant construction contractor, dismissing the plaintiff’s claim against him. Consequently, the court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

Talk to an Experienced Massachusetts Attorney

If you sustained injuries in a work accident, you should talk to an attorney about whether you may be owed recover workers’ compensation benefits. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of the Law Offices of James K. Meehan is an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer with the skills and resources needed to help you seek a just outcome. You can reach Mr. Meehan to arrange a meeting through the online form or by calling him at 508-822-6600.